Between Consumerism and Resistance, Outreach and Exclusion: Online Vampire Subcultures – Dale Hudson

Dale Hudson explores online vampire subcultures as sites that articulate US national identity. Hudson argues that although they are ostensibly oppositional, vampire subcultures “are important sites for indoctrination into, and preservation of, national ideologies.”

The Dream… What Exactly is it? Well the dream is to stop the hate for vampires on the net, and some day offline. How can this dream be achieve[d] you may ask? Well by informing people what vampires are, giving them a better understanding of them. Some people will always refuse to understand vampires perhaps due to religious and moral background[s]. We can’t help how people were raised, but we can make attempt[s] to inform. (Real Vampire Coalition 2002)


The activities of vampire subcultures are usually associated with youth rebellion, whether through music—goth, industrial, and hard core—or media fandom, such as Anne Rice’s “Gathering of the Coven Ball” in New Orleans. As with the activities of other youth subcultures such as ravers and LARPs (live-action role players), those of vampire subcultures tend to be simultaneously peripheral and hyper-visible in terms of public perception. When youth subcultures capture the attention of mainstream news media, they are generally framed as delinquent or criminal. The “dream” of the Real Vampire Coalition appeals to a more nuanced understanding of vampire subcultural practices and the different meanings that youth attribute to them. In this article, I examine intersections between the built-in privileges of many participants in online vampire subcultures that imply inclusion in the nation, such as whiteness and access to the internet, and the historical constructions of vampirism as a means of designating “social deviance” and justifying the exclusion of particular groups in light of nationalism and immigration. By examining the practices of online vampire subcultures and interacting with participants, I explore the complex negotiations between consumerism and resistance, between outreach and exclusion, particularly in terms of the selection of physical and performative markers of cultural difference that define US national identity. Since the conjunction of electronic mediation and mass migration has made intersocial communication “transnational, even postnational” (Appadurai 1995: 8), I argue that issues of globalization, specifically the unevenness of digitally and electronically mediated exchanges of knowledge, contributes to theorizations of youth and fan subcultures in light of the continued relevance of nationalism.

My own attempts to understand online vampire subcultures have changed considerably since I first began to observe the subculture four years ago. Initially I was concerned that historical implications of the designation “vampire” as a means to legitimize exclusion of certain groups from the nation and oppression of certain groups within the nation based on exaggerations of cultural difference might be effaced by online vampire subcultures. The images of the vampire, I suspected, might have been sufficiently worked over by the mechanisms of capitalism, so as to be reduced to part of the “flickering procession of familiar images” that Stuart Ewen describes the destiny of resistant counter-cultures in an era of consumerist societies (1988: 248), while the designation “vampire” still contained its power to exclude groups. In addition to questions of US nationalism’s basis in isolationism and xenophobia, I was concerned about the ramifications of cultural assumptions about vampires faced by people diagnosed with the incurable genetic disease porphyria. Patients suffered humiliations and prejudices after a paper, presented at the American Association for the Achievement of Science in May 1985, linked their symptoms to vampirism (Dresser 1989: 171–198).[2] As I began to engage participants and fans in dialogue, and as I explored more web sites, I began to reconsider my assumption that adopting a vampire identity was insensitive to the historical constructions of vampirism and complicit with consumerist culture. I learned that participants in vampire subcultures are not merely unwitting recipients of nationalist ideologies. Participants are often active in reworking negative stereotypes, defending respect for diversity, engaging youth with issues relevant to their experiences in ways that standard outreach to youth does not always succeed, and challenging commercial notions of intellectual property.

In my research and interviews, I learned that participants and fans do not merely invert some of the basic assumptions about vampires from popular culture, but they rework them into a means of empowerment, allowing for pleasure, irony, and resistance. Community building, information exchange, outreach (self-help), and social activism emerge through digital technologies that cannot be fully separated from consumerism as an “exercise of citizenship” (García Canclini 2001: 15). Participation in nationalist ideologies is as much a part of online vampire subcultures as opposition to them, so that notions of US national identity are implicitly, if not explicitly, disputed in cyberspace. In this article, I analyze four aspects of such disputes. First, I examine the conjunction of vampires, youth, and social anxieties to define the misconceptions that vampire subcultures are potentially dangerous and their participants are exclusively white. Next, I look at the modes by which cyberspace works to “erase” physical markers of cultural difference against the history of vampirism as a politically motivated mode of exaggerating cultural difference in the interest of nation building. Third, I examine common practices of online vampire subcultures in terms of identity formation, community building, and social outreach. Fourth, I look at consumerism as a performative marker of US national identity and the “resistant” practices of fandom.

Vampires, youth, and social anxieties

Folklorist Nadine Dresser points out that US youth learn to recognize vampires at an early age, seeing images of benign versions of Count Dracula on the boxes of children’s breakfast cereals and as characters in children’s educational programming (1998: 95–101). Although these images of the vampire are relatively innocuous, from its roots in medieval folklore the designation “vampire” has worked work to naturalize societal fears of difference, marking as inhuman or monstrous those who threaten—or fail to facilitate—the established order (Rickels 1995: 1–4). [3] Linguist Katharina M. Wilson observes that, “although the superstition of vampirism seems to have developed in eastern Europe, the word vampire (for which the Slavic cognate is upir), which is now universally used to describe the phenomenon, seemed to have gained popularity in the West” (1985: 9). It is precisely this appropriation of a foreign word to designate cultural difference that becomes the premise for the cultural production of horror that begins to emerge in vampire fiction in the early nineteenth century. The vampire’s ability to incite horror draws upon largely unconscious responses to immigration that reasserts nationalism, and it is inextricably linked to power and ideology as they have been played out historically across national borders. Immigrant vampires in fiction, and later in film, are not only prevented from immigration and cultural assimilation, they are often chased from receiving countries back to their sending countries, where they are murdered in acts that are comparable to international political interventions. At the same time, fans often embrace fictional and cinematic vampires, reworking narratives of exclusion into social practices of inclusion.

In US popular culture, vampires regenerate in “a new and ever-widening circle of semi-demons to batten on the helpless,” to borrow the phrase of Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. More than a century ago, Dracula played on public fears of the penetration and contamination of London—the very heart of the British empire—by a Transylvanian vampire. The horror of Count Dracula’s relocation from Transylvania to London was largely contingent on Stoker’s decision to situate his fiction within the contemporary context of British national identity in a moment of social and political crisis. The status quo was perceived to be “threatened” by the “Jewish Question,” the “Irish Question,” the “Eastern Question,” and other “questions” raised by mass migration and colonialism (Gelder 1994; Valente 2002; Arata 1990; Moretti 1983). In Dracula, Britain is most vulnerable through its women, so that women become “the helpless” on which Harker suspects vampires to batten. Stoker uses the “new woman,” the relatively autonomous woman of the 1890s who challenged the social norms governing sexuality and gender roles, as a site for battles of “good versus evil” (Senf 1982), as a weak juncture in the nation.

Youth today are imagined as particularly vulnerable to broader social changes, such as the erosion of “family values,” which threaten the national ideologies that maintain the “mythical norm” for US culture as “white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, christian, and financially secure” (Lorde 1984: 116) and its consumerist citizenship. Consequently, youth are often imagined to propagate social maladies, such as crime, addictions, and disease. More pertinent to my discussion of online vampire subcultures, the male vampire hunters in Stoker’s novel attempt to defeat Dracula whose actions they rationalize as driven by a “child’s brain” rather than a “man’s brain.” The vampire’s insatiable appetite for blood, they imply, is not mediated by the human (adult) capacity for social assimilation, lacks restraint, and therefore hides in secrecy. The secrecy of vampire subcultures, however, implies an agency to youth unimaginable to Stoker’s vampire hunters.

Participants in vampire subcultures tend to view outsiders with suspicion, fearing that they will be portrayed as freaks, cult members, deviants, or criminals. Katherine Ramsland, a writer closely associated with novelist Anne Rice, prefaces her study of vampire subcultures with the sensationalized story of Susan Walsh, a reporter and go-go dancer from New Jersey who disappeared mysteriously while investigating “Manhattan’s vampire cults” (1998: ix), suggesting that vampires may harm outsiders to protect their anonymity. [4] The suspicions of participants in vampire subcultures seem particularly justified after the media sensation surrounding the 1996 ritualized murders of Richard and Naomo Wendorf in central Florida by a “vampire clan” composed of four teenagers who allegedly also mutilated themselves and drank one other’s blood. At that time, participants in vampire subcultures found themselves confronted with prejudices comparable to those faced by gangsta-rap and punk subcultures. As with Ramsland’s study, Clifford L. Linedecker’s “true crime” paperback on the Wendorf murders, The Vampire Killers, pivots on two basic assumptions: vampire subcultures are dangerous and their participants are primarily white, middle-class youth. Linedecker writes that the “tragedy” of the murders was not “merely an isolated incident, but a symptom of a deeper, more pervasive malady affecting young Americans” (1998: 269). Outraged that white, middle-class youth from “small town America” have been drawn into the social problems more frequently associated with minoritized groups, Linedecker pronounces that “adolescents who should be concerning themselves with studies, proms, teenage crushes and zits are making headlines by banding together in groups, loose-knit fraternities and sororities, or cults, and committing unspeakable crimes” (1998: 269). Not only are his assumptions about white, middle-class youth buttressed by the national privileges of whiteness, his assumptions do not include space for consideration of youth faced with other issues, such as hate crimes and other legacies of institutionalized racism and discriminatory immigration laws.

Studies such as Ramsland’s and Linedecker’s circumvent recognition of the unevenness of adolescent experiences in the US. Their studies rearticulate some of the basic assumptions about youth during the 1950s and 1960s: “a preoccupation with delinquency and associated with the study of other so-called ‘condemned’ and ‘powerless’ groups in society such as the working class, migrants and the criminal,” with youth gangs as a model for the study of youth in general (Valentine et al 1998: 10). By contrast, Real Vampire Coalition’s “dream” to end the hatred of vampires seems to respond directly to arguments by writers such as Linedecker.[5] Youth, women, and GBLTQ (gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, and queer) invest vampirism with powers to resist normative ideologies that preserve the privileged position of the US mythical norm, though not always addressing the intersections of race and consumerism with citizenship. At the same time, equations of vampirism with social rebellion and self-empowerment may be traced to images of vampires from popular media, particularly in films following the conventions of vampires as glamorous, seductive, and dangerous, such as portrayals of Count Dracula by Béla Lugosi in Dracula (Tod Browning, 1931), Christopher Lee in Horror of Dracula (Terence Fisher, 1958), Frank Langella in Dracula (John Badham, 1979), Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992), and Gerard Butler in Dracula 2000 (Patrick Lussier, 2000). While vampirism has been interpreted as resisting normative stereotypes of sexuality and gender (Craft 1984, Dyer 1988, Case 1991, Auerbach 1995), Ramsland’s and Linedecker’s studies of vampire subcultures reinscribe, perhaps as a marketing ploy to generate book sales, Stoker’s nightmare scenario for the “helpless” in nineteenth-century London onto the youth in contemporary US—the corruption of “American” youth with social problems associated with “everyone else.”

Vampires, cyberspace, and cultural differences

Typically, cyberspace has been conceived as a new transnational frontier for expressions of subjectivity by largely, though not entirely, de-centering the means of literary and cinematic production. Digital technologies have been invested with utopian and democratic significance by allowing “anyone”—or virtually anyone—access to the means of production. Critics point out, however, that “the American mythologization of the Internet as a community represents a nostalgic dream for a mythical early modern community which reasserts the dominance of the white, middle-class male and his cultural assumptions (Strattan 1997: 271). The “digital divide” has increased in the past decade, as cyberspace continues to erase markers of cultural difference, most notably race, ethnicity, and nationality. European and Asian Americans remain the largest users of online resources, as African Americans and Latino/as fall into the “racial ravine.” [6]Access to digital and electronic technologies, however, does not necessarily allow marginalized groups equivalent pleasures of rebellion that it allows nonmarginalized groups. Although youth in
the US exercise citizenship through consumerism, nonminoritized youth generally do not have to deal with issues of racism and homophobia, among other institutionalized measures of oppression in the US.

A search on reveals 860 groups on the general topic of vampires, 382 of which are devoted to role-playing, 28 groups on the novel and film Interview with the Vampire (1976 and 1994, respectively), and an astounding 981 groups, not including groups with “adult” (sexual) material, on the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) with an additional 772 groups devoted to “fic” (fan fiction) and 633 groups to role-playing.[7] Although search engines facilitate the location of online vampire subcultures, establishing contact and developing relationships with them still requires months, if not years. In my efforts to invite vampires and vampire fans to participate in an online survey, my results have been limited, perhaps due to my foregrounding of the survey as part of my ongoing academic research. At the time of writing, only fans of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles have responded, and none identifies as a vampire. Studies of vampire subcultures highlight difficulties faced by folklorists, ethnographers, and journalists, trying to penetrate the subcultures, to observe and interview participants and theorize their practices.[8] Although the internet has made vampire subcultures more visible to those who wish to participate, it has also made them more visible to “lurkers” or those who might want to “flame” or “troll” them.[9] Vampire web sites are notorious for their frequent, often unlinked, migration to new URLs. In some ways, my article participates in this process of exposure that drives digital migrations aimed at retaining an “underground” status for vampire sites.

Computer-mediated communication (CMC) has allowed many significant changes for vampire subcultures. MUDs (multi-user domains), MOOs (MUDs, object oriented), and chatrooms transcend the limitations of physical space and permit contact that is simultaneously intimate and relatively anonymous.[10] Cyberspace allows for participation in a group according to highly codified and often secretive rules with password-protected members-only sites. More than anything else, these sites and chatroom postings reveal that vampires often come together online, to find “brethren,” due to loneliness or social stigma, or for the sheer enjoyment of electronically mediated social activity. Like other online subcultures, communities emerge in chatrooms, message boards, e-zines, and by email as a means of sharing or exchanging information and experiences, whether “real,” imagined, or performed. The distinction between those who identify as vampires and those who identify as media fans is fluid. Some youth define themselves as vampires and later as fans, having “outgrown” the reason for their initial impulse to see themselves as vampires; others redefine themselves from fans to vampires. Many of the images of vampires imagined online come from popular media targeted at, and consumed by, youth, such as Joss Whedon’s television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel (1999–2004), Hollywood films such as The Lost Boys (Joel Schmacher, 1987), and novels by authors such as Christopher Pike. Whether they consume or resist such images, online vampire subcultures are intimately linked to media fandom and, more significantly, access to the internet.

Studies of vampire subcultures attempt to shock readers with evidence that “real-life” vampires do exist, qualifying their claims by foregrounding differences between “real” vampires and their literary and cinematic counterparts (Kaplan 1984; Page 1991; Riccardo 1996; Guinn 1996). In my research, I find that some youth who identify as vampires adopt physical markings taken from popular media (fangs, deathly white pallor, black clothing, etc.), often only for particular social events, yet others go to great lengths to distinguish themselves from what they consider Hollywood’s unfair representation of their “race.”[11] The Vampire/Donor Alliance announces:

If you want to dress up, go out to a night club, and do the “I’m so vampiric that I can trace myself back to Vlad Tepes/Elizabeth Bathory/Lord Byron/The Comte de St Germain,” be our guest. Just please don’t do it around us. We’re just a bunch of people who happen to be vampires, or who happen to love vampires. We have lives, not unlives. (Mustafa 2001)

Another site argues that “as there are several races of man, there are also many races of vampire” (Gothic Creations 2002). The perception among many participants in online vampire subcultures of their feelings of being excluded, as well as the desire among them to exclude themselves, from mainstream US culture is evocative through the choice of the word “race” to designate vampires. Multiculturalism may serve as a dominant US national ideology since the 1980s, but the construction of racial difference—historically, black/white—has functioned as a primary means of national identity formation (Roediger 1991; Marx 1998). Although “race” might seem a problematic choice of designation when evoked by white youth, who typically are not racialized in mainstream US culture, “race” taps into historical mobilizations of the word “vampire” as a designation of ideologically charged exclusion.

While online vampire subcultures adopt the designation “race” to distinguish themselves from non-vampires (humans), race as it is typically defined, marked, and experienced in life through a selection of visual and auditory characteristics (skin color, eye shape, accent) and practices (cuisine, sports, religion) is relegated to the margins of popular media involving vampires, such as the Blade comics, Hollywood’s horror cycle of blaxploitation films, and supporting characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. [12]As has been pointed out about the uneven reception among different audiences of “positive images” (in contrast to negative stereotypes) of minoritized groups (Stam and Spence 1983: 9–12), the consumption of literary and cinematic images of vampires is uneven, allowing for repression, resistance, and ambivalence. In a book about Rice’s fans, D’shan, a 38-year-old, African American, jewelry and furniture designer in New York City, explains his interest in vampires:

Vampires are feared and chased, and yet respected. People try to kill them because they are strong and they need to be gotten out of the way. Those scenarios overlapped [with] the reality of my life. I related not to the good guys, but to the vampires in most cases, because of my background as black man from Texas: I was chased and hated. I had to romanticize racism because I did not understand it. […] When I was less centered and more affected my environment, as a teenager, I would get so angry and pissed off because I didn’t understand the white women who would grab their purses or when people would lock their doors when I walked by. To keep myself from being angry I would imagine I was a vampire. In that fantasy thinking I would just remember that vampires have a way of drawing out the fears in folks or suppressing those fears. People are naturally uneasy around them without knowing why. (Marcus 1997: 9–10) [13]

D’shan’s reworking of vampirism to make sense of his own experiences is analogous to those I encountered in my own field research. In conversations with African American and Asian American university students in western Massachusetts, I learned that they sometimes prefer vampire novels to vampire films because verbal images allow the imagination freer reign than audiovisual images, which are often explicitly linked to specific representations of race. The same can be said about Poppy Z. Brite’s “sparse” writing style in comparison to Anne Rice’s detailed descriptions, which often fetishize racial, ethnic, and national difference.[14] Fantasy can become a means to self-empowerment, a means to place notions of national identity based on physical and performative markers of cultural difference into question.

When space is equated with cyberspace, markers of difference—such as race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and class—become less clear, almost invisible. The visual and auditory presence of such markers of difference in clothing, accent, skin color, nose and eye shape, among others, is largely absent, particularly in light of the general tendency in online cultures to exclude such categories of identity from user profiles. Jennifer González notes that “passing,” in the sense of performing what one is not “IRL” (an online expression for “in real life”), has become the norm in cyberspace, especially with respect to the selection of avatars (visual representation of the player’s character) in MOOs. She argues that “the representation of race in this space is complicated by the fact that much of the activity online is about becoming the fantasy of the racial other” (2000: 29). In many ways, online vampire subcultures work to destabilize concepts of identity based on physical markers of cultural difference by emphasizing the construction of online identities in disembodied performance.

“The Tale of Two Slayers,” an email-based RPG (role-playing game), asks players to define their “race” (“Black, Caucasian, Latino”) and “breed” (“Human, Human Servant, Vampire, Witch, Animator, Necromancer, Werewolf, Wererat, Wereleopard, other form of Were”), highlighting the performative potential of the game (Seriena 2002). As has been argued persuasively (Kolko et al 2000), cyberspace works to render invisible, or outright erase, markers of cultural difference that continue to affect intersocial exchanges IRL, such as racial profiling in retail security, highway policing, and, since the US “War on Terror,” hate crimes against Muslim and Arab Americans—or anyone mistaken for them, notably Sikhs. As markers of difference are more “visible” IRL, cyberspace becomes an arena where gender swapping, passing, and other fantasies are possible, a place where national identity is contingent more on performative markers of cultural difference than on physical ones. In terms of online vampire subcultures, such performances take on a new significance because these very markers are chosen by participants, rather than prescribed by outsiders, inverting the direction of power historically imbedded in the term “vampire.”

Identity, community, and outreach (self-help)

Many youth create personal web pages and participate in chatrooms to communicate their thoughts about vampires and their own experiences to others whom they might not meet IRL.[15] Vampires Seeking Vampires allows vampires to post personal ads. Some engage with issues of race. “Juliette Alana” writes: “I’m a vamp looking for a friend to laugh with, feed with, share poems with and correspond with. Age, gender and race don’t matter to me. I hope it won’t matter to you too” (2001). The fantasy of a vampire identity offers an alternative to conventional subcultural designations of “jock,” “cheerleader,” “hippie,” “slacker,” “rave kid.” Some sites use derogatory terms to define those with less prestige in the subculture, such as “blood junkie” for blood drinkers, or “vampire bait” as “a poser or wannabe who is just screaming for a vampire to come after them” (Daville 2001). Online vampire subculture becomes an extracurricular activity, an alternative to institutionalized programs such as the Boy and Girl Scouts, which offer involvement in group activities through membership.

Personal web pages (or “lairs,” as they are often called) and organizational web sites become archives of constructed identities. Some participants identify with vampires due to perceptions of having been neglected or abused by their parents, ostracized by peers, or isolated geographically, as they make clear in their postings in chatrooms and on their personal web pages. Since vampires are portrayed as powerful and different, youth are able to find self-empowerment by fantasizing about being an “HLV” (human living vampire), “Night-timer,” “Genetic,” “Inheritor,” “Classical,” “Psi-Vampire,” among others.[16] Some advocate drinking blood and encourage vampires to have their “donors” sign legal contracts to avoid criminal prosecution; others offer guides to UV protection in sunscreens. Some consider vampirism a religion, whereas others are attracted to vampirism for the frisson it adds to sex and dating practices. In their web sites, some advocate piercing, tattooing, and scarification for reasons similar to those by youth outside the subculture. They indicate that they build self-esteem by investing body modification as a resistance to normative ideals of physical beauty, find pleasure in the form of self-expression in body art, or intensify their trust for others by having close friends perform the modifications.[17] Others are content with disembodied performance in MUDs or email-based RPGs. There are “dating services” and “white pages” to place vampires in contact with other vampires, victims, or donors. As with any online culture, vampire subcultures are replete with in-group slang, neologisms and acronyms which function to establish communities and barriers against outsiders. The slang “breathers” for non-vampires plays on the tongue-in-cheek derision of the queer term “breeders” for heterosexuals.

In my research and interviews, I find that youth participating in online vampire subcultures build communities through rivalry (articles, rants) as much as through affiliation (banner sharing, webrings).[18] There is a considerable amount of dialogue—and dispute—among participants as to what exactly constitutes “authenticity” with regard to vampirism, vampiric practices, or a vampiric lifestyle. The alternative spelling “vampyre” is sometimes used to designate “real” vampires from goths and role-players who are often considered as “frauds,” “fakes,” or “poseurs” by those whose practices are less self-consciously performative. Although such hierarchies would seem to reinscribe other cultural hierarchies—such as national identity in the case of ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities “passing” for the US mythical norm—subcultural hierarchies provide parameters for delimiting community identities. Some of these sites attempt to build communities around different conceptions of vampirism; others attempt to transcend differences., for example, uses the motto “Vampires Unite! Strength In Unity!” to reach Sanguinarians, Psychic Vampires, and Vampyre Lifestylers.

More significantly, however, participants in online vampire subcultures formulate vocabularies for their own subjectivity when there are no available or extant models that fit, as with D’shan’s use of vampires to make sense of his incomprehension of racism. Many sites contain information about ways to cope with public ridicule, feeling different or awkward, ways to get along in the normal or “human” world, and dealing with sexual issues. The designation “vampire” might not seem necessary, were it not for the strong identification of these youth with vampirism. The experiences and means to cope with “low energy” that some vampires discuss in essays and chatrooms are comparable to strategies for dealing with symptoms of fatigue and depression. Participants offer candid and highly personal accounts of their social experiences that often mix a fear and courting of societal disapproval. Although some of experiences described online are imaginary, such as memories of experiences from several centuries ago, many participants trace their interest in vampires to childhood traumas and self-destructive behavior such as cutting, a form of self-mutilation, or bulimia. Web sites serve as “safe zones” for participants and allow them to transcend physical handicaps and work through emotional uncertainties.

Organizations, such as Vampire Church and the Vampyre Society, include outreach resources and support groups for members and the public. The red ribbon for HIV/AIDS awareness has been reworked into the bleeding ribbon for “bloodplay awareness.” Darkfeardotcom’s FAQs (frequently asked questions) offer information about “safe blood feeding techniques” that challenges popular notions of the vampire’s immortality[19]:

It is important to remember here to be confident of your donor’s health. With the threat of deadly blood deseases [sic] shuch [sic] as AIDS, this is crirtical [sic]. Also, be aware of any mouth infections in direct contact with the blood at the wound. Some take the blood in small cups and mix with a red wine. Health and safety are the important issues here. (Daville 2001)

According to its mission statement, “The Vampyre Society works for, and with, the vampyric community […] to provide the support and guidance” (VS Council 2002). It provides access to support groups for youth who have been abused, thought of suicide, or engaged in cutting. More pages on its web site contain information on preventing bodily and emotional abuse, whether from others or self-injury, as well as a parent support group, than on vampires. Although the site asks anyone under age 18 to leave, its services seem geared toward educating youth who might be attracted to the potentially injurious aspects of vampire lifestyles for reasons they do not fully understand. On its “Cutters Support Group” pages, cutting is not discussed in terms of safe bloodplay, the sexual use of blood or ritual of bloodletting, but in terms of the prevention of self-injury. When entering The House of Black Roses, a linked youth support group, a popup warns: “We have one adult member who moderates things when necessary” (2002), suggesting that supervision and intervention have been worked into the concept of such programs. The link between interest in the occult and awareness of child abuse, as in Darkness Against Child Abuse, provides outreach to youth who might not respond to more traditional programs.

For youth with access to the internet or email, participation in online vampire subcultures may be understood as a means to self-empowerment through identity formation and community-building. Resisting social restraints placed on youth, such as parental consent in decision-making, participants invest vampires and their vampire identities with powers unavailable to them IRL. The “dark fantasy” of being a vampire or a vampire’s victim, for example, becomes an important means by which some youth confront the “darkness” of their own lived experiences—or fantasize about “darkness” for a variety of reasons. Cyberspace provides an important arena for youth to cultivate a sense of belonging and confront important issues they face in everyday life. At the same time, the individual and group identities that are created, imagined, or performed online often exhibit an unconscious reproduction of certain aspects of the nationalist ideologies that they purport to challenge, reconfigure, or disrupt. As vampires are imaginary creatures, I will build on the notion that conceptions of nation are “imagined” through print media (Anderson 1983; 1991) to question the nationalist underpinnings (consumerist citizenship) of fandom and online technologies.

Consumption, resistance, and fandom

The advent of wide use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) by youth during the 1990s has prompted a rethinking of subjectivity and cultural production across the disciplines. Following Louis Althusser’s thesis that political states (as institutions) interpellate individuals as national subjects, Joseba Gabilando argues that cyberspace interpellates them as global subjects primarily as consumers, rather than as citizens or voters (1995: 428)—a point highlighted by the popular confusion as to whether “.com” is an abbreviation of “communication” or “commerce.” If participants in online subcultures are global consumers, then they are also privileged ones. They have access to technologies that are beyond the financial means of most of the world’s population. Both fandom and participation in online activities require the purchase of novels, tickets to films, subscriptions to cable or internet providers, and computers. Participants in online vampire subcultures are interpellated as consumers who facilitate the workings of capitalism and its ideologies through links to e-commerce sites and banner ads; but these youth also use consumption to resist capitalist conceits and conventions, in particular through “fic” (fan fiction).

“Fan culture,” Jenkins writes, “stands as an open challenge to the ‘naturalness’ and desirability of dominant cultural hierarchies, a refusal of authorial authority and a violation of intellectual property” (1992: 18).[20] Youth produce new meanings for the images they appropriate from “parent products,” a term used for commercially produced works that establish the “canon” or official characterizations and story lines. Fic and RPGs rework story lines from their favorite television series, films, or novels within the framework of their own lived experiences.[21] In “The Tale of Two Slayers” a BtVS/ABVH cross-over, email-based RPG, the “character pages,” defining roles in the game, include an entry for Buffy’s mother, Joyce Summers, with the comment: “I figured why not throw her in if anyone wants to play her” (Seriena 2002), indicating the relative unimportance to youth of playing parental roles.[22] Although fan cultures tend to look with disdain on making a profit from their activities and circulate materials at cost or in kind, the “resistances” in online vampire subcultures should be qualified. Online fandom shares many traits with the “real life” fandom studied by Jenkins, but it is more intimately imbedded in the commercial matrix of online technologies.

As with the internet in general, consumerism is a central component of online vampire subcultures. Some web sites sell products specific to vampire subcultures, such as prosthetics fangs and claws, both custom and ready made, and cat-eye contact lenses for use at parties (Dnash 2001). lets users to post lists and reviews of favorite vampire novels and films. Personal web pages often include critical reviews of films and books, often within the context of subcultural hierarchies. Reviews of Interview with the Vampire (Neil Jordan, 1994) and The Vampire Journals (Ted Nicolaou, 1997) include the following assessments, respectively: “This movie was the final nail in the coffin (no pun intended) that made the vampire scene go out of control. This movie alone is responsible for 1000s of people running around thinking that they are [the vampire] Lestat,” and “This in my all time favorite vampire movie and best of all it’s not really popular so you won’t see a bunch of kids at the mall looking like the main characters” (Roz 2001). Still, these pages are generally linked to e-businesses, which provide commercial incentives, such as “points” which may be redeemed for purchases or hosting services. Fans link their web sites, dedicated to characters from popular media, via webrings that are hosted by commercial servers such as GeoCities and WebRing. Founded in January 1998, the Missing Mile Webring, dedicates to “author extraordinaire Poppy Z. Brite,” is maintained by a fan who goes by the name “abandoned,” a name that functions as a metaphor for web pages that have been abandoned by their owners. Open to new links, “abandoned” writes: “It doesn’t have to be a shrine to the woman. You just have to be a fan and mention her somewhere on your page, although a picture or two would be nice” (abandoned 2002). As some zines include print advertisements, some web sites and pages include banners and popup ads, though many visitors may disregard them in the same way that television viewers disregard commercials.

Though by no means the largest category of vampire-related sites, official web sites of vampire-fiction writers and vampire films constitute an important component of online vampire subculture. Similar to professional fanzines and product tie-ins, these sites generally emphasize the fan as a consumer and exploit the commercial potential of online technologies. Before films are released, studios launch web sites as an important component of overall marketing and advertising strategies. The site for The Forsaken (J. S. Cardone, 2001), for example, attempts to build interest among young viewers who are not generally fans of vampire films by emphasizing the connection of the film’s young cast with their work in other projects that appeal to youth.[23] Author web sites for the vampire fiction vary. Some focus heavily on the sale of memorabilia, but most emphasize building loyal fan bases as a primary goal. Some important disputes between author and fans emerge.

Notorious among fans for her antagonism to fic, Anne Rice offers the following “important message” on her official site: “I do not allow fan fiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes” (Kith and Kin 2002). Whether this statement reflects Rice’s genuine concern with intellectual copyright or contracted loyalty to her publisher is unclear, but it does establish a limit to the ways fans can express their appreciation for her characters. Although VC (Vampire Chronicles) fic still exists, fic writers take various precautions to downplay their “borrowing” from Rice. “Mabara,” a former VC fic writer, who wrote fic to enhance her enjoyment of Rice’s novels, told me that her interest in Rice’s fiction diminished after Rice’s ordered her lawyers to threaten fic writers with law suits. She reported that some fans, who had followed Rice’s Vampire Chronicles from the beginning, lost interest in her writing and stopped participating in the Anne Rice Newsgroup, and that annual pilgrimages to New Orleans lost their significance. About fic, she said:

For me, fanfiction was a HUGE part of Anne’s fandom. I met so many people who shared my same interest in vampires and specifically, Anne’s work. Let’s face it, people who love vampires are hardly in the majority. Especially here in the midwest. I have many dear friends today, all over the world, whom I wouldn’t have met had I not written and read fanfiction. (Mabara 2002)

“Mabara” also mentioned that fans opposing VC fic, which they considered to lessen their enjoyment of the novels, were quick to defend Rice online to anyone criticizing her work. Ironically, it was VC fic that prompted many readers to buy Rice’s books to find out more about her characters. The backlash of Rice’s decision has direct consequences on her fan base. Some fic writers have even surmised that the high quality of VC fic might have appeared threatening to Rice, whose own writing has “diminished” substantially in quality, in the estimation of many of her fans, since Tale of the Body Thief (1992), the fourth book in the Vampire Chronicles. In response to Rice, VC fic writers now define themselves as “spec” writers insofar as they “speculate” about Rice’s characters, comparable to “speculative fiction” as a political nomenclature for science fiction. They have developed the “Support Our Specs” (SOS) ribbon that plays off other awareness ribbons, such as the pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness. The SOS ribbon “is not intended for use as a part of any form of retaliation against Anne” but is “meant to be displayed by anyone who agrees that specs should not be made to go away and that Anne and her people should leave specs, spec writers and spec fans in peace” (SOS 2002). Fic writers are active defenders of freedom of expression, such as the blue ribbon campaign for “free speech online,” which resists commercial notions of intellectual property and challenge notions of consumerist citizenship.


Frank Grady argues that Rice’s “vampires are the immortal custodians of Western culture, that realm of aesthetic endeavor that capitalism has always imagined as the repository of its conscience” (1996: 226). The role of Rice’s fictional vampires as cultural custodians finds parallels with the conception of youth as “guardians of the society” (Clarke et al 1976: 9), insofar as both carry forward social and socializing practices from one generation to the next. In his study of the “dialectic of exploitation and empowerment rooted in youth’s practices of consumption,” Rob Latham notes that the vampire is “literally an insatiable consumer driven by a hunger for perpetual youth” (2002: 1–4). Nearly two decades ago, Dresser found that the three characteristics most frequently cited by university students in California as “attractive qualities” of vampires—power, sex, and immortality (youth)—align with prevalent desires of US citizens (1986: 202). The question of social privilege is built into US national ideologies and plays a significant role in the empowerment of certain youth subcultures to consume and rework images from popular media, as well as the reception of these practices to outsiders.

The convention in popular media of endowing vampires with “eternal youth,” as well as ostensibly unjustified persecution, accounts for part of their attractiveness to youth as they negotiate between adolescent and adult responsibilities. Vampires look young, yet they are empowered to act as adults. “Youth” in western culture has conventionally been read as a site for rebellion against dominant ideologies (see Valentine et al 1998). As such a site, however, youth is privileged insofar as it is often excused from the social stigmas of equivalent activities by adults; yet youth practices are often simultaneously dismissed as unimportant or transitional. More importantly, youth is not always recognized as a site for reworking national ideologies. Youth subcultures are important sites for indoctrination into, and preservation of, national ideologies—even in subcultures that position themselves as oppositional. Although I find many contradictions and inconsistencies, I argue that nineteenth-century constructions of nationalism and vampirism, particularly naturalized cultural hierarchies and other criteria for exclusion and oppression, continue to affect online vampire subcultures.

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[1]I am grateful to Sunaina Maira, Anita Mannur, Alissandra Paschkowiak, and Lissa Soep for their comments and suggestions on this article.

[2] Misunderstandings of symptoms of porphyria—photosensitivity, hairlessness, pointed teeth, and need for injections of heme—were imagined to be an “inspiration” for the historical fear of vampires. The confusion of the disease with vampirism is the subject of C. Alan Lytle’s novel, American Vampire (2000), in which a young man afflicted with various genetic diseases confronts isolation and persecution by those who do not understand his condition. His oppression is compounded by the activities of several goths who emulate novelistic and cinematic conceptions of vampires, including non-consensual blood-drinking.

[3] Vampirism accumulated multiple associations of immigrants and ostracized indigenes in the nineteenth century: Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Roma (gypsies), pagans, homosexuals, alcoholics, suicides, robbers, prostitutes, and arsonists—anyone deemed ineligible for Christian burial. Corpses of those under suspicion were often buried at a crossroads, so as to deter the reanimated corpse from finding its way back to town (Barber 1988: 55).

[4] Ramsland has authored Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice (1991) and The Vampire Companion: The Official Guide to Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles (1993). The Vampire Chronicles begins with Interview with the Vampire (1976). Unlike Stoker’s Dracula, Rice’s novels are narrated from the vampire’s perspective. Rice’s longhaired, pale-skinned, fanged vampires Louis and Lestat have become youth icons.

[5] Audre Lorde’s insight that the onus invariably falls on the oppressed “to teach the oppressors their mistakes” is relevant to the Real Vampire Coalition’s appeal. My point, however, is not to posit an equivalence of experience between minoritized groups and youth who self-define as vampires. Lorde makes a point that unfortunately is no less relevant today: “we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals,” so that “as a result, those differences have been misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion” (1984: 115).

[6] For statistics and an analysis of universal access, community technology centers (CTCs), and racial/ethnic content providers, see Hill 2001.

[7] These numbers reflect a search that I did with the key word “vampire” on 13 December 2003.

[8] Ramsland explains her “difficult decisions” about going undercover in her research on vampire subcultures, “whether to take mood-altering drugs, give or drink blood, and go places after dark that could put [her] in serious danger” (1998: x).

[9] A “lurker” reads chatroom postings without posting his or her own. “Flaming” refers to searing postings in which a writer attacks another participant in overly harsh, often personal, terms. “Trolling” implies the desire for follow-up responses.

[10] MUDs are multi-user, text-based, role-playing environments in which participants collectively construct characters and worlds. MUSHs (multi-user shared hallucinations) are another type of MUD. MOOs (MUDs, object oriented) includes software language that allows participants to generate images and text.

[11] The word “race” is commonly used in RPGs, such as Vampire: The Masquerade (VtM), to designate types of characters, rather than “real” identity.

[12] Blade, an African American whose pregnant mother was infected by a vampire before his birth, was introduced in Marvel Comics’ Tomb of Dracula (1973) and has been adapted in films: Blade (Stephen Norrington, 1998) and Blade II (Guillermo del Toro, 2002). As a ‘day walker’ (a vampire who can survive sunlight), Blade hunts vampires to revenge his mother’s murder. Hollywood’s blaxploitation cycle (1969–1976) of low-budget films was marketed primarily at inner-city youth, exploiting the popularity of “black” actors with “black” audiences by constructing superheroes, such as Shaft and Superfly, in sensationalized stories, generally involving crime. Buffy the Vampire Slayer includes African American supporting characters, such as Forrest Gates, the slayer Kendra, and the vampire Mr. Trick—all of whom were killed—as well as principal Robin Wood and the slayer potential Rona. The Buffy spin-off Angel includes a “streetwise” African American character, Charles Gunn, as a series regular.

[13] Jennifer, a 28-year-old, African American, social worker from Cincinnati, Ohio, does not address the question of her racial identity. She comments that participation in Rice fandom provides her a new circle of friends that she sees at the annual “Gathering of the Coven Ball” and the feeling of being a part of Rice’s “special universe” (43–44).

[14] Brite’s Lost Souls (1992) is the story of a youth named Nothing, who meets his 100-year-old vampire father, Zillah, and his 75-year-old friends, Molochai and Twig—“teenagers by standards of their race” (37). The vampires file their teeth sharp like fangs, wear makeup and black clothing, have tattoos and genital piercings, and drink Chartreuse. Unlike cinematic vampires, they can walk in daylight, their bite does not infect their victims, and they can survive on semen, rather than blood, “in a pinch” (272). See note 4 on Rice.

[15] For a discussion of computer-mediated communities, see Foster 1997.

[16] The use of these terms varies greatly. Some vampires consume blood; others, called “psychic vampires,” consume energy. Some are “born” as vampires; others are “turned” or “embraced.”

[17] MTV Sex 2K: Gothic Sex (April 2002) addresses the issue of trust and body piercing.

[18] A “rant” is an expression of strong feelings against something. Banner sharing is a means of driving traffic to a web site by displaying a banner (an advertisement at the edge of a page’s main content) of another web site. A webring is a group of linked web sites that are based on a common interest.

[19] Vampires in popular media are not always immune to HIV infection, as in Troma Studio’s Sucker The Vampire (Hans Rodionoff, 1998).

[20] For an analysis of the legal aspects of this debate, see Coombe 1998.

[21] In the most general sense, “fic” is writing by nonprofessional writers who “borrow” characters or story lines from “parent products.” Fic is not sold for profit and is primarily distributed to facilitate communication between fans through feedback. Fic writers express their admiration for favorite shows, integrating the story lines with their experiences, showing readers “the real story” that could not be broadcast, giving expression to needs that are not met, and alleviating stress by writing as a hobby. They also invent characters—or add themselves as a character (a “Mary Sue”). See Berman 2001, Cumberland, 2000, Klotz, 2001.

[22]“Crossover” is a term used to denote that the fictional “universes” of two parent products have been combined. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) and Anita Blake Vampire Hunter (ABHV) are works of speculative fiction in which “realistic” social issues are addressed in a supernatural universe. The BtVS television series is based on a film of the same title (Fran Rubel Kuzui, 1992) in which a white cheerleader—the “typical” blonde female victim of slasher films—becomes the hero by saving her high school from an invasion of vampires. Buffy and her friends—“the Scooby Gang” after Hanna Barbera’s Scooby Doo, Where Are You? series (1969–1972)—combat vampires and other demons, while also dealing with “typical” concerns of youth in southern California. The series received the “Founders Award” by the Viewers for Quality Television in 2000. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Vampire Hunter centers on its titular character, a Mexican American woman. The novel series is set in an alternative version of the US in which vampires are legal US citizens, living alongside humans, werewolves and other supernatural creatures. In recent volumes, Blake uses male vampires for her sexual pleasure, inverting to some extent popular conceptions of Dracula as a sexual predator or “player.”

[23] The site includes grainy, color-saturated images that highlight young actors, including former teen-fashion models, a former MTV veejay, and stars from the youth-oriented television series Dawson’s Creek and Roswell.

Author Biography

Dale Hudson received his Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and presently teaches in cinema studies at Ithaca College. His research focuses on global cinemas, particularly constructions of race, ethnicity, and nation implicit in North American audience receptions of films produced globally. He can be contacted at


  1. Beth Miner says:

    This was very interestng reading. One of the best articles about Vampires I have read to date. Thanks and I look forward to reading more!